Doctoral Dissertation Research: Cartographic Design for Public Communication of Environmental Information

Project: Research project

Project Details


This doctoral dissertation project investigates how maps have been designed and used by the mass media in stories about environmental issues, and what aspects of map design prompt map readers to share these maps on social media. Scientists and science communicators face the challenge of making environmental issues relatable, tangible, and understandable for a broad audience. Maps and other graphics are a powerful way of communicating such issues to the public as maps can help visualize impacts as well as mitigation and adaptation strategies to the public. To date there has been little specific research in cartography focused on how maps with environmental science are produced, reproduced, and shared across a wide range of media, social media, and government agency outlets. The connection between what information is made public, and how, is not well understood, yet has broad significance to science and society for environmental mitigation and adaptation efforts. The results of this research will be shared directly with scientists and science communicators and stands to benefit society by helping to provide clear and transferable guidelines for designing maps for public understanding and dissemination.

Maps are used ubiquitously to illustrate environmental change. Few studies in cartography, however, have focused on the specific issues associated with cartographically communicating environmental change related to the complexity, uncertainty, and multi-dimensionality of the issues. Additionally, within the cartographic research community, there has been a recent push to focus on context-specific maps and on maps that matter for social and environmental issues. This project uses a mixed methods research design to answer four broad questions: (1) What organizations design environmental change maps for the public in the United States? (2) What patterns emerge from evaluating the content and cartographic design of these maps? (3) What are the communication goals of environmental change mapmakers and how are these goals reflected in the map and design decisions? (4) What aspects of cartographic design increase map readers' likelihood to share these maps on social media? The project integrates content analysis, interviews, and survey methods to examine patterns related to where and how these maps are produced, what content and cartographic design they employ, how design decisions are made for communicating to a wide audience, and what aspects of cartography of environmental change maps lead map readers to share these maps more broadly. Qualitative and statistical analysis will be used to assess and synthesize these results. Findings will provide a comprehensive assessment of cartographic design for better communicating environmental change.

Effective start/end date7/15/176/30/19


  • National Science Foundation: $15,986.00


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